Rambunctious, Rumbustious, Rumbustical

One spends a semi-absurd amount to subscribe to a resource like the Oxford English Dictionary — more precisely, subscribes to the OED, because there is no resource like it — because one wants answers, if not certitude. For instance, when the word “rambunctious” happens into your mind. Wait a minute. Where did it come from? Surely it’s an invented word from Edward Lear or Lewis Carroll.

The OED produces a fine definition: “Of a person: … exuberant; boisterous, unruly; flamboyant; of an animal: wild, high-spirited.” The earliest citation it offers is from 1830, from a publication called the Boston Transcript: “If they are ‘rumbunctious’ at the prospect, they will be ‘riprorious’ when they get a taste, for a ‘copious acquaintance’ with Vinegar.”

But as to how the word came to be, only this: “Origin unknown.” A pointer is offered to another entry, rumbustious (“boisterous, turbulent, unruly, uproarious”; a related form is rumbustical; the words are probably alterations of robustious). Robustious in turn is merely a combination of “robust” with the adjective ending “-ious” (robust is from the Latin word robur, for strength).

So there: No Lear or Carroll or any other sole practitioner shows up in the story.

2 Replies to “Rambunctious, Rumbustious, Rumbustical”

  1. I always look forward to using the dictionary. Because I work for a division of Johns Hopkins, I have access to its library system and can feed my OED habit for free; JHU pays for the subscription. I usually can’t get out of the American Heritage dictionary in under 20 minutes.

  2. I’m with you. Bartleby.com is one of my favorite sites all around — the American Heritage dictionary and everything else that’s there for free. And the audio pronunciation feature for the dictionary is occasionally a nice, cheap entertainment.

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